GP surgeries at risk amid workforce crisis, health leaders warn

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More than 2.5 million patients across England may see their local surgery close in the next five years because of the high numbers of GPs at risk of leaving the profession – causing a “catastrophic” effect on patient care, health leaders have warned.

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said it is calling for an additional £2.5 billion a year for general practice by 2020/21 as drastic action must be taken to address the workload pressures that are making a career in general practice untenable.

It also wants to see more initiatives to increase retention of the GP workforce.

Without urgent investment, the RCGP said it fears that 762 practices across the UK could close over the next five years because they are relying on a workforce where three-quarters of GPs are aged 55 or more and are therefore approaching retirement age.

Broken down by nation, this affects an estimated 625 practices in England, 71 in Scotland, 37 in Wales and 29 in Northern Ireland, the college said.

In England, 2.5 million patients are at risk of seeing their practice close, with the five worst-affected Clinical Commissioning Group areas being Sandwell and West Birmingham (85,105 patients), Medway (52,330), Havering (49,761), Ealing (46,909) and Wigan Borough (43,640).

RCGP chairwoman Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “These new figures paint an extremely bleak picture of the scale of the GP workforce crisis right across the UK.

“GPs will always work their hardest to try to keep practices open but the harsh reality is that fantastic, caring GPs are burning out, working in conditions that are unsafe for their own health and that of their patients.

“Workload in general practice is escalating, both in volume and complexity, yet the share of the NHS budget general practice receives is less than it was a decade ago – and our workforce is actually decreasing.

“As a result, many GPs are bringing forward their retirement plans because the pressures they are working under are untenable.

“It is a massive loss to the profession – and patients – to lose our most experienced doctors prematurely when they have huge amounts of knowledge and skill.

“If these GPs do leave, and these practices do close, it will have a catastrophic impact on our profession and the patient care we are able to provide. We have more GPs in training than ever before, but if we have more GPs leaving than entering the profession, we’re fighting a losing battle.”

She said the college wants to see the extra funding come as part of the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS, announced by Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this year.

“Decision-makers need to think long and hard about how we can retain the GP workforce, and the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS – funded by the extra £20.5 billion a year announced earlier this year – is the ideal opportunity to do so,” she added.

“We have seen some positive and innovative schemes, as part of the GP Forward View in England, such as the GP Career Plus scheme, but we need much more of this kind of thing, and on a bigger scale.

“Being a GP can be the best job in the world but only if general practice is properly resourced and provided with the adequate funding and resources to ensure we can deliver the highest quality care to our patients.”

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